Friday 11 July 2014

Rob Mercer - Five Years in a Valley Nordkapp

It was wintry afternoon for Sydney with a forecast warning of strong southerly winds, 2 to 3m seas and long period easterly swells to 4m, the air temperature was a brisk 10C and I had no doubt that we would have the launch site to ourselves. Parking was easy and sure enough some of the regulars had already setup their boats and retired to the café for a hot chocolate foregoing their usual pre-paddle paddle. Upon seeing the sea kayaks lined up my first impression was what a fine picture these boats made; bright colours against a steely Harbourscape and then I realised what was really special about this scene; of the seven boats already on the beach all were Valley Nordkapps or Nordkapp LVs. On easier weeks some would have been in faster boats for a workout or more manoeuvrable boats to play but in the more challenging conditions of steep seas over rebounding swells these seven experienced paddlers had defaulted to their Nordkapps; a serious boat for serious conditions.

 So much has been written about this boat, its history, its evolution and its legacy that it is often referred to as a benchmark for describing the performance of newer designs, it figures heavily in the fleets of those with several boats and even where it is the first serious kayak purchased it is often the last one sold.
Neil using his Nordy where it's meant to be used.
My personal experience is mainly with the composite standard size Nordkapp in its most recent form. I believe the current design was last tweaked in 2008. When I say “tweaked” it seems that the cumulative effects of almost four decades of these successive tweaks or incremental refinements has yielded a boat retaining the original elegant line and sea manners but in a much more user friendly form. Indeed, I have seen both fans and sworn enemies of the original design with the same look of delight at the predictable manner of the newer model, especially in turbulent and difficult waters.

The antithesis of recent competing designs with their radiused hard chines and almost flat semi planning hulls, the Nordkapp has very round bilges for a sea kayak. Subjectively it is very slippery in the water, it is not a boat that is easily tripped up by cross chop or breaking waves abeam and there is no “notchiness” in the stability profile of the boat. As a result it is responsive to active and assertive technique but less accommodating of those who are just along for the ride.

A classic icon of the sea, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
Much is made of the light stability of the Nordkapp but stability is a subjective term; underpinning it are theoretical concepts like resistance to various angles of heel. To a paddler in challenging water, predictability and responsiveness may be more valued attributes. After all it is how the kayaker and kayak work together that makes a design seaworthy. Those who proclaim a design stable or otherwise often forget that we only learn balance by challenging stability. The wider and less responsive the boat is to edging the less balance we will learn by paddling it.
 Ambitious novices prove the trickiest with regard to the issue of stability and balance. If the stability is too light they may never relax enough to develop good balance but if it is too stable they will develop very little balance at all and just become a passenger rather than ever feeling “at one” with their boat.
 Although not for everyone; I am surprised by the number of newer paddlers who have chosen a Nordkapp or Nordkapp LV as their first serious kayak and enjoyed the steeper learning curve that this has provided. 

At a personal level I find the boat quick enough in all but the fastest of sea kayaking company, manoeuvrable enough to be used to guide and instruct across a wide range of conditions and stable enough to take photos in rough water.  The rockered hull is well suited to steep seas; tracking is relatively loose and with the skeg up the stern slides easily for course corrections, allowing fast changes to hit just the right spot on the wave.

Its lean shape and sweeping lines are deceptive and if you use skinny dry bags it can carry plenty of gear for multi-day expeditions and yet still work very well as a day tripper for those in the manufacturers’ recommended weight range. I can’t think of a better boat to paddle out to Broughton Island or similar locations where carrying food, wine, water plus camping, snorkeling and camera gear need to be combined with the nimbleness to run the rocky features and sea caves when you arrive.

The seating position is very comfortable for me with enough bend at the knee to allow leg drive and enough contact with the thigh for good edge control and rolling. The back-band is really more of a lumbar support that encourages good posture when set up properly. There are adjustable pockets on the seat side plates that allow foam shims to be added for those with slim hips who need more contact.
 I recently sold my long serving Carbon Kevlar Nordkapp with it’s beautiful clear hull and tangerine deck to a keen buyer after a second hand boat. After about 700 days on the water it is weather beaten but still going strong and I wanted something new. So after much deliberation what do you think I have replaced this classic design with?

Another Nordkapp of course!

Rob Mercer, July 10, 2014

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